Last spring, Bryan Boyer posted a drawing of a residential building at Washington, D.C.'s Watergate complex to his Flickr account (flickr.com/photos/bryan). The elevation of architect Luigi Moretti's design (below, center right), culled from history's dustbin, was originally published in a 1955 issue of the Italian magazine Domus, seven years before the complex opened (and 17 prior to any scandal). A Harvard GSD student, Boyer uses the photo-sharing/social-networking site as an archive and design resource. He sees it as reflective of architectural practice as much as of history. “Flickr's choice of the word ‘photostream' to describe the photos that a user posts is revealing,” says Boyer. “It really is a flowing stream of consciousness. In that context, to see the odd Moretti drawing next to a current-day studio project, stuffed between a picture of dinner at your desk and the changing leaves of fall—well, this is the architect at work.”

On Flickr, students, historians, and architects search out images of a certain designer, genre, or location via “tags” (user-assigned classifications), and an ersatz community is formed. Although the site has tools for setting up formal user groups, many participants operate on an ad hoc basis, trading comments and links. First-year Princeton architecture school Ph.D. candidate Enrique Ramirez (who posts under the initials E.G.R.; flickr.com/photos/egr) finds the digital exchange a natural fit. “It is a way of sharing things one has heard of but does not necessarily know,” he says. “Posting a picture of a Zaha Hadid building will solicit a different response than posting Paul Rudolph drawings or Venturi Scott Brown collages.”

  • Flickr users with a yen for architecture post almost any photo or illustration they discover (or create).
    Flickr users with a yen for architecture post almost any photo or illustration they discover (or create).

New York City–based architect Kelvin Dickinson (screen name: kelviin; flickr.com/photos/73172555@N00) is responsible for much of the Rudolph material ending up on Flickr. In April he set up a group dedicated to the architect (flickr.com/groups/paulrudolph); on Oct. 31 it had 71 members and 1,999 images. Dickinson's enthusiasm raises online awareness of the architect's work, which in turn helps with the Paul Rudolph Foundation's offline efforts to save the designer' soft-maligned buildings. “I wanted to use the forums to discuss the need for preservation and why his buildings evoke such a visceral response,” explains Dickinson. The desire for dialogue is common among Flickr's architectural users, and it clearly transforms archiving drawings and photographs from stuffy historical indexing into contemporary practice.